With the golden hour sunset illuminating the landscape, more than thirty people converged on Blooming Hill Lavender Farm. These people gathered on June 1 to partake in June’s VCE Loudoun Master Gardener Lecture, hosted by Cyndie and Peter Rinek of Blooming Hill Lavender Farm. Farmer & Owner Cyndie Rinek shared stories about her trials and successes while growing lavender in Northern Virginia. The audience eased into the evening while sipping lavender lemonade tea. Below you will find a summary of Cyndie’s talk.

Blooming Hill Lavender Farm

Blooming Hill Lavender Farm
Blooming Hill Lavender Farm

An Introduction to Lavender

Cyndie started by sharing lavender’s history. Being part of the mint family, this semi-woody plant has a square stem. Having existed for approximately 3,000 years, the Lavandula species consists of nearly 50 different species and has 400+ varieties. Cyndie shared that lavender is native to north Africa, Syria, Turkey, and the desert areas of the lower Middle East.  Then it made its way through trade routes into France and Italy.  The Romans traded it with the English, and Catholic monks traveled with it across the world.

Cyndie recognizes the challenges of growing lavender in Northern Virginia’s dense, clay soil. Lavender is native to dry, rocky areas, and it prefers well-drained soil. Northern Virginia’s very rich soil can be hard on lavenders, but it is an adaptable plant. Cyndie and her husband Peter grow ninety varieties of Lavender at Blooming Hill; she credits much of her formative learning from gardener Tom DeBaggio of Arlington. 

Cyndie Rinek Shares All About Lavender

Beneath a white and purple tent, Cyndie Rinek speaks before an audience. On the table behind her is a distiller.
Cyndie Rinek Shares All About Lavender

Uses of Lavender

Lavender has a rich history as a culinary and medicinal herb, and different lavenders have different strengths. Some are especially good for oils, beauty, or culinary pursuits. Lavender’s antiseptic, antibacterial, and analgesic properties have made it popular. Cyndie provided examples of its historical use. Anecdotally, grave diggers used to wash in a lavender tincture, and even though they did not understand the mechanism of action, it served as a source of protection from disease.  During World War I, lavender was applied to burns due to its antibacterial properties.

Cyndie described and visualized steam distillation, a process that enables her to separate and purify organic compounds from lavender. Plants naturally produce essential oils which can be collected and concentrated through distillation. Because oil and water separate when they are mixed, the essential oils collected from steam distillation will form a distinct top layer in the collection flask. The water layer that is collected from the distillation is called the hydrosol, and it may contain beneficial components depending on the plants used in the distillation process. 

Since hydrosols are mild and contain the essential nutrients of lavender, Cyndie shared that people can use hydrosols directly on their skin. However, she warned that if people use the oil directly on skin without a carrier oil, it can sometimes cause mild to severe irritations to the skin, depending on the person.  Some people will tell you that they have experienced no adverse reactions, but they still encourage caution. 

Essential Farm Crew at Blooming Hill Lavender Farm

Two dogs, one sitting and one standing, on green grass on a lavender farm as the sun sets.
Essential Farm Crew at Blooming Hill Lavender Farm

Taking Care of Your Lavender

“If lavender finds it happy place, it will give and give,” said Cyndie. Through her experiences caring for her lavender plants, Cyndie shared these helpful tips.

·         Around the beginning of April, wait to see fresh growth. Cut between half to a third of the fresh new growth. Go through the lavender with gloves on and pull out the dead wood.

·         There are different ways to protect plants from root rot. The Lavender Grower’s Association recommends applying organic fungicide ‘RootShield PLUS’ to plants and foliage. A non-organic alternative is ‘Reliant’.

·         To prepare the soil, Cyndie uses a rototiller to break up the soil and adds powdered lime to amend the soil, making it more favorable to lavender.

·         Lavender can use a light dressing of fertilizer, such as chicken or cow manure, but Cindy warns not to add too much, as that will increase weeds.

·         While lavender is deer resistant due to its aromas, rabbits are an issue.  One way to manage these pests is to introduce dogs to your farm. 

Exploring Blooming Hill Lavender Farm

Woman walks along row of lavender plant.
Exploring Blooming Hill Lavender Farm

Getting Started with Lavender

Want to get started with lavender of your own? Here are some of Cyndie’s favorite varieties.

To learn more about VCE Loudoun Master Gardeners’ educational programs, including gardening advice through our Help Desk & Garden Clinics, visit VCE Loudoun Master Gardener's website.